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Tandem Nursing

By Junelle Hanrahan
Glendale CA USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 14 No. 6, November-December 1997, p. 170

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time

I am tandem nursing after a twin pregnancy that resulted in the stillbirth of one twin. Justine is my toddler, Ryan is my surviving twin, and Rachael was stillborn.

When Justine turned a year old, I sought information about weaning. I decided I would allow her to continue to breastfeed until she outgrew the need. A month later I became pregnant. Although my nipples hurt, I remained committed to extended nursing. Unfortunately, I miscarried at 11 weeks. The fact that I was still breastfeeding Justine gave me the strength to cope with my loss. Then I found out I was pregnant again--this time with twins. My doctor was very supportive of my decision to breastfeed through a twin pregnancy. I ate well and drank lots of fluids.

At 28 weeks, we found that one of the twins, Rachael Bethany, had died in utero. I learned I needed to stay pregnant as long as possible to give Ryan a better chance of survival. During this stressful time, breastfeeding Justine helped me to better meet her needs. She knew we were expecting twins and saw me crying a lot. I explained to her that Rachael had died. I also told her how she could help her baby brother by drinking the milk. She replied, "Okay, Mama!" I felt that if he was born early, her nursing would help to establish my milk supply.

I went into labor a month early. We all went to the hospital, and Justine's nursing intensified my labor contractions. She was napping however, when I pushed out Rachael. I held my stillborn girl while still pregnant with Ryan. At this time, my cervix began to close, and I was put on pitocin. I labored for five more hours. Justine held my finger as Ryan emerged into the world. He seemed well and nursed immediately. Justine asked for some milk, too. I felt wonderful when I tandem nursed for the first time, right there on the delivery bed. An attendant was critical, but I remained positive.

Ryan went into respiratory distress 20 minutes after birth. He had fluid in his lungs and signs of infection. He was put in intensive care with oxygen and IV antibiotics. I made it clear that he would receive only my milk. I knew the nutritional advantages; because he was premature, my milk had adjusted to contain higher amounts of protein, and my milk would also help him fight off infection. We were told his stay could be a couple of weeks. In my heart, I knew he would be okay--he could nurse.

Justine slept with me three nights at the hospital. I didn't need to pump to maintain my milk. As an experienced nursing mother, I was able to handle the challenges of breastfeeding a premature baby--positioning his tiny head correctly, helping him stay on the breast and switching sides. I breastfed Ryan while he was hooked up to NICU monitors. On his fourth day in the NICU, we were told he could go home, but that he had to be on home phototherapy for ABO blood incompatibility jaundice. For a week he lay with lights around his body, and the only time I held him was to nurse. During this difficult, emotional time, breastfeeding was my main connection to Ryan. He has made incredible progress, but continues to have intestinal problems and blood in his stool. Because he is breastfed, I know he is receiving the most gentle, healthful food for his system.

It is incredible to ponder all that Ryan has endured. I am not sure if he misses his twin. I think he does. When I am breastfeeding Ryan and Justine simultaneously, I see their bodies wrap around each other. Sometimes they hold hands, and sometimes Justine rubs Ryan's back or arm. They look at each other, smile, and continue to nurse. I think Ryan needs this closeness. I am grateful I have the experience of tandem nursing.

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